A write laugh:

Paul Minett has writ­ten com­edy scripts for some of the big­gest names in show­biz – but he’s just as happy to help out his lo­cal the­atre

Norfolk - - INSIDE - WORDS: Do­minic Cas­tle

Meet the com­edy writer who’s writ­ten for the stars

What links com­edy colos­sus Frankie How­erd and the Ra­dio Fun show staged last Novem­ber at Sher­ing­ham’s Lit­tle The­atre? Give up? Oh well, please your­selves... it’s Aylsham com­edy writer Paul Minett, who, with writ­ing part­ner Brian Leve­son, penned scripts for both.

The Lit­tle The­atre Ra­dio Fun show was a piece of en­ter­tain­ment in the mould of Round the Horne or The Goon Show, put on to raise funds for the the­atre. “It went very well... peo­ple didn’t know what to ex­pect, they come to see a ra­dio show and sit and watch peo­ple read­ing scripts. But it’s a lot more than that, more in­ter­ac­tive and panto-y and it went ex­tremely well,” says Paul. In fact it raised £4,000, a good re­sult for the the­atre.

Paul be­came in­volved in the venue af­ter he and his wife Ann moved to Nor­folk four years ago. “It’s a place I’ve al­ways loved and al­ways come to,” says Paul. “My mother had a wartime friend, Made­line, who still lives in Aylsham– she’s 99 – and so it’s a place I was al­ways brought up to from the year dot.

“Ann knew it and liked it and we de­cided it was a place to re­tire to.”

Lon­don-born Paul doesn’t miss the hec­tic life­style of the cap­i­tal. He makes vis­its back to see Brian in Edg­ware and visit friends but is al­ways happy to get on the train at Liver­pool Street and head for Nor­wich.

He and Brian first got to­gether when they worked in ad­ver­tis­ing in Lon­don in the 70s and be­came good mates. Brian be­longed to an ama­teur dra­mat­ics group that per­formed sketches, some­thing that the two got in­volved in as writ­ers.

“I think it whizzed into the charts at about 98 and dropped straight out the week af­ter!”

They then took dif­fer­ent paths for a few years but got back to­gether later when Paul was work­ing for EMI. At that time EMI was look­ing to sign com­edy su­per­star Les Daw­son. They wanted a mother-in-law song for him, and asked Paul and Brian to pro­duce some­thing.

In the end EMI didn’t sign Daw­son but they did sign Russ Ab­bott and the pair wrote a com­edy sin­gle for him. “I think it whizzed into the charts at about 98 and dropped straight out the week af­ter!” says Brian.

But that fiz­zle be­came a big bang for the pair when Ab­bott’s TV pro­ducer picked the sin­gle for the 1981 Russ Ab­bott Box­ing Day Show. He liked what he saw, got in touch with the duo and gave them their big

break, writ­ing for one of tele­vi­sion’s big­gest names.

“The Russ Ab­bott Show was a big show in the 1980s and so we joined a good few rungs up the lad­der for com­edy script writ­ers,” says Paul. And with that they were in an ex­clu­sive club; Russ Ab­bott’s pro­ducer took the pair on to work with Stan­ley Bax­ter, then spells with Les Den­nis and Dustin Gee fol­lowed.

“There were so many sketch shows around that time, with the likes of Can­non and Ball, Lit­tle and Large all look­ing for ma­te­rial. We were lucky to be­come a part of that,” says Paul. They also had work ac­cepted by The Two Ron­nies for their TV show, to­wards the twi­light of their stel­lar ca­reer.

Who did Paul en­joy work­ing with the most? “Ev­ery­body’s very dif­fer­ent. We started with Russ and we’re still very friendly with Russ, so he is a spe­cial guy we loved work­ing with. Les Daw­son was re­ally nice; Can­non and Ball were great fun to work with as well,” he says.

One of the pair’s strengths was their ver­sa­til­ity and abil­ity to adapt, which won them a lot of work – for in­stance the chance to script for Frankie How­erd in an ITV spe­cial, Fur­ther Up Pom­peii. Paul does ad­mit to be­ing oc­ca­sion­ally awed by the peo­ple they were work­ing with. “We were fans – you think ‘Oh my God we’re writ­ing for Frankie How­erd!’ It was a wee bit daunt­ing...”

Paul en­joys con­tem­po­rary com­edy – he loved Fleabag and Moth­er­land – but feels that while many of the mod­ern crop of stand-up comics are good, they are less all-round en­ter­tain­ers, apart from per­haps Michael McIn­tyre.

He still be­lieves there is an ap­petite for the ‘clas­sic’ style of pro­gramme but feels that mak­ers are shy­ing away from mak­ing more tra­di­tional shows.

“In our book Por­ridge is the best com­edy sit­com and shows like The Good Life and Ever De­creas­ing Cir­cles are our kind of area and I per­son­ally think there is still room for them and an au­di­ence for them, but the TV companies don’t,” he says.

He points to a cou­ple of re­cent ex­am­ples where the BBC have tried; Hold the Sun­set with John Cleese and Alison Stead­man and War­ren with Martin Clunes, which aired for six episodes early last year but was axed shortly af­ter screen­ing. “They didn’t work and the BBC seemed to say ‘this doesn’t work any­more’ and walked away from it.”

Paul and Brian have had longer for­mat suc­cess with The Booze Cruise for ITV, which fea­tured a big-name cast in­clud­ing Clunes, Brian Mur­phy, Neil Pearson and a young un­known, Ben Whishaw.

He says that he and Brian have al­ways writ­ten pro­fes­sion­ally as a pair, in the tra­di­tion of Croft and Perry or Gal­ton and Simp­son. “A lot of solo writ­ers can’t un­der­stand how two peo­ple can write to­gether. We’ve al­ways worked to­gether.

We’re dif­fer­ent to an ex­tent – Lev is more emo­tional, I’m more laid back. And he can type! But we of­ten end each other’s sen­tences and talk in com­edy short­hand and that kind of stuff.”

There have been few fire­works though, or big cre­ative dif­fer­ences. “We kind of just had this rule that if ei­ther of us felt it wasn’t work­ing or we didn’t like it then it

“We were fans – you think ‘Oh my God we’re writ­ing for Frankie How­erd!”

didn’t go in. We stuck to that and so for the most part didn’t fall out.”

They are still push­ing ideas out there but it’s tough, says Paul, a lit­tle rue­fully. “I’m not sure if TV companies want our stuff any­more. We had an idea with a fam­ilystyle sit­com with Anne Reid and Si­mon Cal­low at­tached to it. I don’t think we even got a toe in the door with that.”

But Paul does still en­joy per­form­ing and with a bit of luck you might see him on the boards at Sher­ing­ham Lit­tle The­atre. “I’d love to do it – I re­ally do en­joy it.”

ABOVE : Com­edy writ­ing duo Paul Minett and Brian Leve­son with Frankie How­erd on the set of Up Pom­peii LEFT: With Barry Cryer and Russ Ab­bott RIGHT: Paul and Brian with David Frost

ABOVE: The cast of The Booze Cruise

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